If you have a friend who has cancer, you may want to help them in any way you can. The difficult part is figuring out what you can do to help.
Often, there are other caregivers involved, like members of the cancer fighter’s immediate family. They might take up most of the day to day care of your friend, and you may feel like you are intruding into their lives.
Even if you are not the primary caregiver to your friend, there are many things you can do to support your friend in their cancer journey.
Step 1: Educate yourself
The first thing to do is to process your own feelings about your friend’s situation. If you feel very negatively towards cancer and cancer patients, your feelings may be unknowingly communicated to your friend.
Staying positive is of paramount importance. Today, most types and stages of cancer can be managed with the right treatment.
Constant feelings of pessimism will not help your friend. So check yourself before you say something that might bring their mood down.
Here are some things to do before you can help your friend:
- Find out more about the type and stage of cancer that your friend has. Read up from trusted medical websites like onco.com, cancer.org and mayoclinic.org about the symptoms and treatment of that type of cancer. Make note of what diet is good for them during treatment. Knowing these aspects of their illness will help you help them.
- Sensitise yourself about the harmful effects of commenting on their physical changes during the course of the treatment. It is likely that they might lose hair, weight and energy during their treatment. Drawing attention to these aspects may not be great for their self-esteem and confidence.
- Prepare to be patient. It is likely that your friend will be too tired to have a conversation at certain times. They may also be more moody than they were before, and may show irritation for the smallest of reasons. This is not because of you but because of what they are physically and mentally going through.
- Consult their caregiver on everything. Since they are the person taking care of your friend on a daily basis, they may develop a sense of ownership towards the care being given to your friend. So, consult them on whether you can visit, what gifts you can send etc.
Remember to ask after the caregiver’s health and wellbeing as well. This is going to be a difficult time for them and they too need extra care.
Step 2: Figure out the best way to help
There are many things you can do to help your friend. Consider the options in the list given below and see what will work for you, your friend and their caregiver.
- Making meals or snacks: Find out what foods they are able to eat as the treatment could lead to a change in their food preferences. Prepare healthy snacks that they can munch on between meals. Consult their caregiver before you do this.
- Outdoor walks: If they are allowed to walk outdoors while practicing social distancing, accompany them on short walks. You will need to find out how much physical activity has been recommended for them so that you can ensure that they do not exert themselves too much. You could combine your walk with bird watching, using a pair of binoculars. Or you could take along a camera so that they can take photographs of the trees or buildings in the vicinity. Make sure that they and you continue to wear your masks during this activity to avoid contracting any infections.
- Game time: Spend time playing board games, video games, jigsaw puzzles or word games with your friend. They might be able to do this even when they do not have the energy to go outdoors.
There are a variety of online games that allow multiple players. Find one that both of you find interesting.
- Reading sessions: If your friend likes to read books, magazines or newspapers, but is now too tired to do it, you could offer to spend an hour reading to them.
- Catching up on TV series or movies: If they are a movie buff, find movies that they have not seen yet. Find out about the latest TV series that they might enjoy and arrange for them to view it.
- Refilling prescriptions or grocery: You can collect their medicines or their grocery for them if they do not have door delivery in their area.
- Give the caregiver a break: Offer to stay at home with your friend, so that their caregiver can take a break and get some rest. You could take your work with you and do it there while your friend rests or sleeps.
- Ask for advice: Your friend will feel good if you ask them for advice. Speak to them about something related to your work or your personal life and ask for their opinion on it.
- Listen: Spend time just listening to your friend talk. Maybe they want to complain about their illness or hospital visits. Let them do so, showing empathy by agreeing.Try and suppress the urge to give advice. They may not be in need of your advice, but just a patient ear.
- Pet or plant care: Offer to bathe their pet or water their plants for them. Seeing their home and pets in good condition will lift their spirits.
Step 3: Be consistent
The pandemic has made everyone cautious about visits from others. So if your friend of their caregiver is worried about contracting infections, it would be best to avoid visiting them in person.
There are many other ways to keep in touch and be a part of your friend’s journey. No matter how to choose to stay in touch, ensure that you are consistent. If you have promised to call them at a certain time, remember to do so.
Since they have limited contact with the outside world, they might look forward to each engagement with enthusiasm. Avoid disappointing them by postponing or canceling plans.
- Try and call them over the phone once a week. Tell them they don’t have to answer if they are too tired to talk. They can call you back when they feel better.
- Set up a group chat with your common friends so that they don’t have to repeat the same updates on their health to each person separately.
- Help them download audiobooks on their phone so that they can listen to them when they are bored. This also works for music and podcasts.
Step 4: Gifting
If you would like to buy something special for your friend, think of what they can use right away. Here are some ideas:
- Soft textures: Soft blankets, socks, or towels can be comforting and make a good gift.
- Pillows: They may have trouble sleeping due to physical aches and pains. Get them a large pillow to help them sleep more comfortably. Silk or satin pillowcases are also considered better for hair growth.
- Pain relievers: Heating pads or massaging devices may help reduce physical pains, even if only temporarily. However, do not use heating pads over skin reactions as these can aggravate them.
- Journals and diaries: Your friend might now have more time on their hands. Get them a fancy dairy in which to note down their thoughts and record their cancer journey.
- Water bottles: Dry lips are a common side-effect of medication. Get them an eco-friendly and attractive bottle so that they remember to sip water at all times. Bamboo bottles or clay jugs that keep the water cool could be considered. Avoid metal bottles as they may be sensitive to metallic tastes.
- Colouring books: There are a wide variety of colouring books available in the market, from mandalas, to wildlife. Gifting them a colouring book and some colouring tools like pencils, crayons, or paints may help keep boredom at bay.
Once your friend completes treatment, you may find that their physical condition and their mood may not drastically improve within a short period of time. So you will need to continue with your help and support even after that.
Expecting them to go back to being completely healthy and independent soon after their treatment may be unrealistic. Allow them the time to regain their strength and confidence, as this may take longer than anticipated.
Cancer can be life-changing, but it doesn’t have to change your friendship. You can continue to enjoy each others’ company, allowing for a few minor hurdles along the way.